Organizations contributing to the conservation of Manitoba’s wetlands have marked World Wetlands Day by highlighting the importance of the habitat to the Earth’s eco-system.
According to Nature Conservancy Canada, about 80 acres of wetlands are lost on a daily basis. About two-thirds of the habitat has disappeared worldwide. This loss is an impediment to thousands of species of plants and animals that make wetlands their home and detrimental to natural water filtration, overland flooding mitigation and water retention during droughts.
“We are using World Wetlands Day to remind Canadians that wetlands are all around us. When we talk about them, we often talk about the species living in them, but wetlands are really tied to human and economic health, and conserving them is really conserving ourselves,” said Cary Hamel, acting director of conservation for Nature Conservancy Canada.
Hamel’s organization works with other groups, such as Ducks Unlimited, and landowners to preserve large expanses of wetlands throughout the country. This includes water-holding pockets of land that are treed, swamps, marshes and peatlands, the latter being the largest natural terrestrial carbon store on the planet.
One of the largest conservation projects in the Brandon area is Douglas Marsh. Not only does the area provide habitat for birds – such as the elusive Yellow Rail – but is a key filtration system within the Assiniboine delta aquifer.
Douglas Marsh, a boggy wetland that contains little open water, is located east of Brandon and covers an area of about 151.5 square kilometers.
“It’s a piece of property that was privately owned since the 1980s with intentions of grazing or haying on it,” said Josh Dillabough, natural area coordinator for Nature Conservancy Canada’s Manitoba region. “There hasn’t been any activity on the land since the 1980s. For the landowners, they’re just paying taxes on it… It was important it be protected in the long term.”
World Wetland Day was held Feb. 2 to celebrate the signing of the Ramsar Convention in Iran in 1971, an international agreement recognizing the importance of the natural habitat to human, wildlife and vegetative species survival. In Manitoba, they are a naturally vital part of the Prairie landscape that are often considered “nature’s kidneys” due to their water filtration capabilities.
“Wetlands act as a filter for phosphorus and other sediments and pollutants that might otherwise enter our waterways and lakes,” said the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation’s field manager Curtis Hullick. “Wetlands mitigate flooding by capturing runoff from spring snowmelt or large rains; they are aquifer and ground water recharge sources. In the world of carbon storage and sequestration, wetlands are very efficient and do a very good job. In Manitoba, they are also vital to the existence of many wildlife species like amphibians, waterfowl and large ungulates, such as moose and white-tailed deer.”
Hullick said the condition of wetland ecosystems in the province are not consistent. Some areas have been destroyed due to man-made and natural land alterations, while others have shrunken in size.
“Some are very much intact as they have been since being formed on the landscape,” he said. “It’s a mixed bag.”
The Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation works with landowners to conserve wetlands through conservation agreements. Once the specific area to be protected is determined, the organization pays landowners for entering the wetland preservation agreement. All of the Habitat Heritage programs, which include restoration projects, are conducted on a voluntary basis.
“There also may be areas where it doesn’t make sense to restore for various reasons,” said Hullick. “We often see wetlands that have been altered where the wetlands are still there and now there is a ditch as well. The ditch is controlling the water level, but the landowner has to go around the wetland and the ditch with their farm equipment. We can fill in the ditch, pay the landowner and they can farm the area where they once did…
“Some people like the programs, conserving wetlands and wildlife habitat and some people don’t, and that is okay. It might not be for everyone.”